I Left Polygamy Behind
by Brian J. Mackert
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to parents who are polygamist Mormons. My father had four wives and 31 children. I was the 27th of the 31 children. My mother was my father’s third wife. She had seven children, of which I was the youngest. They belonged to a group of polygamists that live on the border of Utah and Arizona, called Colorado City, Arizona. My family on my mother’s side dates back to the days of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Mormon faith. The polygamist group that lives in Bluffdale, Utah, down near the Utah State Penitentiary, is lead by my Great Uncle Owen Allred. My other great uncle was Dr. Allred, who was shot and killed in his doctor’s office by members of the LeBaron clan. My grandmother is their sister Rhea Allred Kunz. My family’s history is very deeply rooted in the history of the Mormon faith. The first Mormon in my family line became a Mormon during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. They came across the plains with the Mormon Pioneers and helped settle much of Utah and Idaho.
As I grew up in this polygamist family, I was taught about the history of our family in the Mormon faith and the history of the LDS Church. My parents wanted me to understand why we were different from the LDS Church and why we had pulled away from the LDS Church. The separation came when the LDS Church did away with the plural marriage, or polygamy. The president of the LDS Church at the time was Wilford Woodruff, who issued the “Manifesto” which stated that the LDS Church never condoned or practiced plural marriage. This was a bold lie because my family, and the revelation given in D&C 132, were evidence that they did condone and practice polygamy. According to LDS doctrine, it was the only path to godhood. In fact, my great grandfather, grandmother and grandfather were excommunicated from the LDS Church because they would not put away the wives they already had and reduce the number of wives to only one, to be in compliance with the current LDS Church’s position.
As time went by after my grandparents were excommunicated from the LDS Church, they saw many changes in the LDS Church’s policies and doctrines of the church. As the LDS Church changed, my parents taught me about those changes and why they didn’t hold to the teachings of the LDS Church. This has given me a very good education in the history of the LDS Church. Because my family lived according to the teachings handed down by the early LDS Church leaders, who came before Wilford Woodruff, I was educated on what the early LDS Church’s teachings were, on doctrinal issues.
The marriages in our polygamist group were all pre-arranged by the “Priesthood Counsel” (the clan leaders). Daughters were most often married off to complete strangers. Often these girls were married to men twice, if not three times, their age, that already had many other wives. If a daughter was married to a man who didn’t have any other wives yet, she was very lucky. In fact, it was considered a blessing to be a man’s first wife.
As I grew up in this strange family, I found there was great rivalry between the wives and their children. My mother and her children were at the bottom of the pecking order, probably because she was more passive than the other wives and felt that it was her calling to be the peacemaker.
My father was a CPA and made good money at his job, but it was not enough to support his large family. He had 10 acres of land in Sandy, Utah, where the New Jordan High School now stands. He had cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and a large vegetable garden, that helped. Another thing he did to make ends meet was to have three of his wives work and the other one stay at home, and with the help of the teen-agers, took care of the children. Also, if you were a boy over the age of 16, you had to get a job and give your paycheck to your father. If you were a boy under the age of 16, you took care of the farm animals and the gardening.
My father was a control freak. He would not allow us to call him Dad. We had to call him by the more respectful term, Father. Also, if you needed anything, you had to have his approval or you couldn’t have it. This applied to everything, including clothes. I still remember Mom taking hand-me-down clothes from my older brother Ken and putting them in father’s study with my name written on a piece of paper. They stayed there until Father decided that I was worthy to have them. At age 12, I remember wishing for a guitar and hoping that one day Father would change his mind about my having one. My brothers, Steve and Ken, both had guitars, but Father, for an unknown reason, wouldn’t allow me to have one. In an act of rebellion, my mother found an old six-string classical guitar at a second-hand store (only ten bucks) and she bought it for me with money she had been putting away for the day she would leave Father. She warned me to never play it where others could hear me practice and to hide it, especially from Father. I remember one day after school I was playing my guitar when my father came home for some unexpected reason and burst into my room and asked where the guitar came from. He took my guitar from me and put it in his study for three months. It stayed there until at a home evening I played a song on Steven’s guitar, and Father was so pleased with my playing that he gave me the guitar back. I only relate this so you can understand the degree of control my father exercised on his family. In his opinion, he was teaching us where our blessing came from. And the correct answer wasn’t God.
My father raised me to be very defensive when it came to a woman. He taught me that if I were walking down the street and saw a woman being attacked, that it was my duty as a man to be willing to defend her, even if it meant laying down my life for her. My father’s view was that a woman was put here on earth to bring life into this world, that they were the weaker sex, and as a man it was my duty to protect all women. Even if I knew she was a hooker, it didn’t change my duty.
My father was a abusive man. I never saw or heard of him hitting one of his wives, but I have heard of the abuses suffered by my older siblings. He ruled his house with fear. I remember how deathly afraid I was whenever he came home from work. I remember seeing the same fear in the eyes of my siblings. I was blessed to be one of the youngest, and by the time I came on the scene, my father had long since stopped caring about disciplining his children, and reserved it for the most drastic of cases. He seemed to take refuge in watching television. I remember that as soon as he came home from work he would turn on the television. He wouldn’t eat with the family, he ate in front of the television, but he told us that the reason was that we were so ill mannered that it made him sick to eat with us. Later I came to understand that it was just that he didn’t want to have to deal with us. The television was his escape from reality. If you wanted to talk to father, you had to do it during a commercial while standing between him and the television. The only other way to get his attention was to do something wrong and have it brought to his attention by one of the mothers who felt it was severe enough that he should take care of disciplining. Yes, I was spanked with a belt, but never to the point that I felt abused by him. I honestly feel that he dealt an appropriate amount of punishment. So the only explanation I have for my fear of him was because of the fear the older kids had of him.
The mother who stayed home and took care of the children was abusive to the children. I remember siblings being beaten to the point that another child would grab her by the arm and ask if she meant to kill the child. This usually stopped the beating. She showed much favoritism toward her own children who never got punished with the level of violence we, who weren’t her children, experienced. I remember being beaten for telling the truth. She wanted me to lie and say that I had done something one of her children had done. After sticking to my guns, she beat me with a wire coat hanger. I refused to cry out, and she kept saying that she was going to beat me until I broke down and cried. She lost that battle, but I carried all the scars from the battle. I wasn’t able to sit down for three days because of the welts.
Abuse like this was easy to hide. You see, my father started his own private school to keep from having to send his children to public schools. This kept him from having to answer awkward questions from school officials. It started out as just him home-schooling his own kids, but as others learned about this, they asked if he would teach their kids too if they paid him a tuition fee. In the seven years of the school’s existence, we went from 8 kids to over 250 kids coming to my father’s school. The principal of Father’s school was the same wife who was dishing out the abuse at home. Even though we lived in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley, we felt very much isolated from anyone who might have been able to help us. Father taught us that we shouldn’t speak to anyone who wasn’t a member of our polygamist group, that if we set foot off his property without the Spirit of God, we would be overcome by demons that were waiting for the chance to destroy us; and that we could not have the Spirit of God with us if we were acting in rebellion to our father who was our priesthood head. We were also taught that the outside world was out there waiting to lead us into lives of sinfulness that would lead to our destruction, and that there was no love on the outside.
Mother plotted her escape for many years and waited until my sister and I were the only unmarried ones left to make her break. I was thirteen when she asked me to leave with her. Without any need for thought, my immediate answer was, “Yes, Mom, I’ll go with you. Anything is better than the hell I’m living in.” I never asked her why she was leaving, I was just glad to be going. My older sister was 15 and she had gone to live with my older brother, whose wife had just given birth to twins. We moved in with the grandmother who had a very large house that had been divided into apartments. My father acted like he didn’t care that we had left, and to my knowledge, never attempted to reconcile the marriage. It seemed as if he gave us up without a fight, which was a good thing, but the kid in me wanted him to care enough about me to fight for me. I was hurt that he didn’t. I later found out why.
I remember Mom telling me that the reason for her leaving my father was because my father had been molesting his daughters. My whole belief system was shattered. My father had hidden behind religion to prevent others from finding out what he had been doing to his daughters! I don’t know why I wasn’t surprised at this news. Somehow it was something I already knew, even though I hadn’t seen any evidence that proved what I knew. Through the years after Mom left, I saw sister after sister going through therapy. I saw the scars that were caused by the sexual abuse they suffered. I wanted to be there for them, but I had no idea how to help them or comfort them. I figured I just had to be there for them whenever they needed a shoulder. This lead to hearing the horrors of what my father had done. At times, it was more than I could bear to sit there and hold them and hear them cry. My hatred for my father was growing stronger with each tear that fell from my sisters’ eyes.
I worked with my brothers, learning how to build houses. I began drinking and taking drugs in an attempt to numb out enough to be able to have a good time and not dwell on my problems. At the age of nineteen, I joined the Navy to get away from my family. I just wanted to get as far away from them and my childhood as I could. I was stationed at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, for four years. During my years in the Navy, I was drinking very heavily and taking drugs. I went from 190 to 175 pounds, which, for my height and build, was very thin,. My life was going downhill very fast. I had buddies telling me I might be caught using drugs if I didn’t lay off, but somehow I always passed the drug tests.
About six months before I got out of the Navy, I came to a turning point in my life. My hatred for my father was reaching my limited ability to cope with, and I began to fantasize what it would be like to make him pay. I began to entertain the thought of killing my father. I thought and thought about what would be the best way to make the loudest statement when I did it. My father had moved to the polygamist town of Colorado City, Arizona, to hide from the arrows being thrown at him. He was the “Super” of the building in which they held their church services and where their kids went to school during the week. After long thought I put together my plan. I would get on my motorcycle and drive to Colorado City. I would time my arrival for late at night. I would take flourescent orange spray paint and write all over the school and church building: “(Father’s name) is a child molester! I should know, I am one of his children.” Then I was going to go over to his house and do the same to his house and his car. After that I would go in his house and shoot him in his sleep. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I would do beyond that, but looking back now, I’m sure I would have killed myself also.
I set about making my plan come together. I bought a 9 mm pistol and all the paint I would need. I was coming home from work one day and had to pull off the highway because I couldn’t see through my own tears. I knew I was heading down a road that would forever change my life, if I survived it. I began to think about the long-term effects of my actions, if I went through with my plan. What finally kept me from killing my father and throwing my life away was the simple fact that it wouldn’t change anything for my sisters, they still would have the scars of being molested. And if anything, it would only deepen their pain at the thought of losing a brother who threw away his life to make our father pay for what he had done. But it would never take away their pain. This was a problem I couldn’t fix. So I got back on my bike and went to the hospital and asked to see a “shrink” to help me deal with my emotions in a healthier way.
After I got out of the Navy I went home again. I went from job to job, getting hired and laid off from construction jobs. It was hard to keep people employed at that time because interest rates were sky high. No one was buying houses back then. I couldn’t use any of the skills I learned in the Navy unless I got a job with the DOD contractors who built their aircraft. You see, I worked on ejection seats on the F-14 Fighters, and there aren’t any ejection seats on civilian aircraft. I went through nine jobs in eleven months, doing construction work. I was now 23 years old.
During this time period, I thought I would give “being a good boy” another try, so I went back and was re-baptized into the polygamist group. The next step was to go and see a member of the priesthood counsel to find out what needed to be done to get married. As we discussed my future and the prospect of marriage, I was told that if I wanted to get married, I would have to find a girl on the outside and convert her, and that there was a shortage of girls in the group who were around my age. I knew what this meant because I had seen this before. All the girls my age were being married off to old men who had five of six wives. He was telling me, without having to tell me, that I was blackballed as being a risk, and they would not give me a wife from within the fold and risk her leaving with me if I decided to leave again.
At this point, I became convinced that religion was only a mind game used by other men to control people. I began to deny that God existed. I would shake my fist at God and shout out at the sky, saying, “God, you don’t exist! No God could allow my sisters and I to suffer through what we had suffered and not do anything to stop it from happening. God, if you do exist, I curse You!”
I joined the Marine Corps and was once again getting away from my family and all that they represented. Before I went off to Boot Camp, my sister became a “Born Again Christian.” The night before I left, I was sitting in the front seat of her car, crying like a baby, angry at life and at God. She listened as I poured out my broken heart. Then she said, “Brian, I know this doesn’t make any sense to you right now, but one day you will come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And when you do, He will heal all the hurt you’re feeling. He will remove it from you as far as the east is from the west. He will be to you the Father you never had.” She told me the reason she knew Jesus could heal my broken heart was because He had healed hers. She was free to forgive my father for the sexual abuse she suffered. Well, she was right, but I wasn’t able to understand then.
In Boot Camp, I was doing some soul searching. I realized that I was blaming God for the evil things men had done. I figured that if He were able to stop these things, He would be taking away our freedom of choice. I had been judging God – something I had no right doing. I began looking into the Scriptures during Boot Camp. I began to feel a need for God in my life. I joined the LDS Church while I was in Boot Camp, mainly because it was familiar and what I was used to, and I knew there would be a pretty good chance that I’d find a Stake close to where I would be stationed, wherever that was going to be.
My first year after Boot Camp was spent in Okinawa, Japan. I attended the Stake there, off and on again. I became aware that I could never say, with full confidence, that the LDS Church was the true church. There were too many doubts that I had because of the history of the LDS Church that I knew too well. I realized I was fooling myself into trying to believe in something I knew was wrong. I knew there was a God out there somewhere who loved me and all I had to do was find Him. I stopped going to the LDS services because they were as empty as the ones I knew from childhood. All I knew was that the Spirit of God wasn’t there. The spirit I felt there wasn’t a spirit of love, but one of judgment or condemnation.
My next duty station was at MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina. While I was stationed there, I met Dana, who later became my wife. We enjoyed our life together there at Cherry Point. When the news came that we were going to have an addition to our new family, the topic of religion came up. Dana and I both agreed that we had to be united in what we would teach our kids about God. But she was raised in a Christian home, and I…. well, you know. She asked me what Mormon’s believe because she didn’t know much about them. I got about as far as explaining the Mormon path to godhood when she said that she had heard enough and needed time to let it all sink in. The next day she announced that she would never become a Mormon. To tell the truth, I was relieved. I was afraid she would want to become a Mormon and I would be faced with going back to something I didn’t believe in . I knew I didn’t believe in Mormonism, but I also didn’t know what to believe in. I only knew I believed there was a God and that Jesus was His Son. Dana and I let religion slip to a back burner with the birth of our son, Sterling, and with a long deployment coming up, we wanted to spend time together as a family before I had to leave.
While I was on deployment in the Texas desert, I found that two of my fellow sergeants were Christians. They were reading a book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” by Hal Lindsay. I had always been interested in end-time prophecies and had to admit that there was a lot that I didn’t know on the subject. When they had finished reading it, I asked to borrow it. As I read it I would discuss with them the different things I had learned from the book. In the book, Hal Lindsay did a great job of showing God’s love for us, that God had provided a way for us to escape His wrath. If we believed in Jesus’ atonement on the cross, we wouldn’t suffer these things, that while I was yet a sinner, Jesus died to reconcile me to God. While I was shaking my fist at God and cursing Him, He still loved me! I was so overcome by the love of God that I openly wept, but I still had a lot to work through before I would accept the free gift God was offering me. After I returned, I told Dana about the book I’d read and the way God had touched my heart.
We ended up with orders back to Okinawa, Japan. Dana and Sterling were able to join me, and as soon as we got settled into our home, we both felt the need to find a church we both could agree upon. I told her the only thing I knew to believe was that there was a God and that His Son was Jesus Christ, who died for my sins on the cross. As long as they are teaching from the Bible and that Jesus is the Son of God, then I didn’t have a problem.
We searched and searched and couldn’t find a church that both of us liked. Then one day, Dana suggested a church that was about a half-hour away from us. I fretted about the travel time, saying it would mean spending an hour on the road each Sunday, but somehow she convinced me to try it. After the first service, Dana was sure this was where God wanted us. I wasn’t getting anything, but I did like the church and felt at home there. The second Sunday, Dana asked if we could join. I told her I wasn’t sure yet. The third Sunday, Dana got up and said that she was going to join with or without me because she knew God had lead us to this church. I guess God knew I was delaying and wanted to get me moving. I wasn’t about to be left sitting in the pew by myself, so we joined Koza Baptist Church that day. As we started getting more involved in the church activities, we started going to more than just the Sunday morning services, we started going to the classes they had in the evenings. I was learning more and more about a side of God I had never known before. All my life I had seen God as a God of judgment and wrath, but now I was seeing God’s love.
One day I had just returned from a month and half cruise with the MEU when Dana suggested that we attend a class about other religions. The winning argument was when she said that if I really wanted to understand the differences between Christians and Mormons, this class would be the perfect place because that was what they would be talking about. So I went to the class. It happened to be the last day of the class and so they were reviewing what they had learned about other religions. I got as much literature as I could from the class because I was offended when they had labeled Mormonism as a “cult.” I was going to look up all the references they gave and search the scriptures and prove them wrong about the things they were saying about Mormonism. It wasn’t that I still believed in Mormonism, it was because it was my whole identity. My whole family was Mormon, with the exception of a few. I felt that it was my duty to defend them and our family history. The more I searched to prove them wrong, the more I proved them right.
I had come to a crossroad. I had to decide, once and for all, what I was. Was I a Mormon or a Christian? I sat and thought about this and wondered how to come to a decision. I finally decided that the only fair approach would be to study the two religions without any outside help. I looked up Scripture references and studied doctrinal views and found so many contradictions with Mormonism that it was clear to me that it was a faith built upon fly-by-night doctrines, that if the current “prophet” wanted to change something, there wasn’t anything he could not change about the Church’s doctrines. And in Christianity I saw a God who never changes, who is the same today as He was yesterday. I saw a God who loved me and was personal and real. It was through studying the differences between these two faiths that I found the love of God for me.
I decided that I was going to become a Christian, but I didn’t know how to become one. Then I began having problems with my sinful nature and it was creating problems in my marriage. I began praying to God for the strength to overcome my sins and to help me save my marriage. One day I was praying on my way to work. It was about 35-40 minutes to get there and this was the time I had set aside to talk to God. As I began praying, I asked God why He hadn’t given me the strength to overcome my sin. I was frustrated. Nothing I could do was coming out right. And then God spoke to me through the Holy Spirit and asked me, “Brian, who paid for your sins?” I said, “You did, Lord.” And He said, “Did I not say I would make a new creation out of those who come to Me?” And I said, “Yes.” And He said, “So you’re wondering why I haven’t made a new creation out of you?” I said, “Yes, Lord.” And then He said, “You already know I paid for your sins, what’s missing, Brian?” I responded, “I have never confessed that You are my Lord. I have never asked you to come into my heart. I have never surrendered my life to You.” Then He said, “And you wonder why I can’t change you and make you a new creature, why sin still rules your life?” It was 5:00 a.m. and it was raining that morning with one of the frequent downpours Okinawa is known for. I could barely see the road. My tears didn’t make matters any better so I dried my eyes, pulled off the road and surrendered my fight against God. I gave my life to Him and asked Him to change me from the inside out. That was four years ago. God has changed my life so radically that everyone I know says I’m not the same man they knew. God even gave me a heart that could love my father and forgive him. Today I look back at my life and see the road I’ve traveled and I’m amazed at the Mighty God I serve.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1999, I stood in the living room of my wife’s grandparent’s house. They were thanking God for what He had done. They asked me what I was thankful to God for, so I told them what God had done in my life, and that it was just ten short years ago that I was on my way to kill my father. After they had heard for the first time the horrors of my past, and how God had touched my life to the point of being able to forgive my father and be able to love him, I looked up to see every eye in the room was wet with tears. For the first time I realized that the words my sister Mary spoke to me that night in her car before I went off to Boot Camp were words of prophecy. She had said, “Brian, I know this doesn’t make any sense to you right now, but one day you will come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And when you do, He will heal all the hurt you are feeling. He will remove it from you as far as the east is from the west. He will be to you the Father you never had.” I realized I had just told the story of all my pain, yet I felt none of it. It was as if I were telling the story of someone else’s life. God had healed all the hurt and removed it as far as the east is from the west. He was the Father I never had. What an awesome God!